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Younger people with dementia

Younger onset dementia refers to dementia which first emerges before a person reaches the age of 65. Though 65, as the traditional age of retirement, is treated as a cut-off age, it has no biological significance. However, people under 65 are less likely to have chronic cardiovascular conditions, which increase the chance of vascular dementia. 10% of people with younger onset dementia seem to inherent dementia from their parents – a higher rate than older people with dementia. The needs of people with younger onset dementia are often different from other people with dementia as they are more likely to have dependent children, be physically fit and active, be working at the time of diagnosis and have large financial commitments (like a mortgage). 

Recognising younger onset dementia

Though the causes of younger onset dementia are similar to those found in older people, the symptoms may vary. Younger people with dementia are less likely to experience memory loss than older people, but there are many common symptoms, including:

  • Memory problems interfering with daily life, whether forgetting a recent event or conversation or repeating a question several times
  • Confusion or disorientation in unfamiliar situations, or confusion over where they are or what time or date it is
  • Changes in personality and behavior, often seen as depression or loss of confidence
  • Difficulty in communicating or finding the right words
  • Impaired sense of balance, ability to walk, and movement co-ordination

The difficulty with younger onset dementia

Because dementia is less common in younger people, younger onset dementia can be tricky to diagnose. GPs may misdiagnose symptoms as depression, anxiety, or menopause, and the diagnosis may take a long time. Symptom diaries are a good way to keep track of changes in behaviour over time. Younger people with suspected dementia may see neurologists or psychiatrists before being diagnosed.